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Is there a way to test for Covid-19 without PPE?

by Luke Voiland, AIA

A thorny issue shaping the current public health crisis is broad access to COVID-19 testing. If we could conduct wide-scale testing, we would be able to pinpoint the carriers and contain the spread of the infection. Yet testing has not been keeping pace with the growing contagion. Healthcare providers still face a dire shortage of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), leaving clinicians on the front lines vulnerable to exposure.

To tackle this challenge, we participated in a rapid design competition organized by the Regional Partnering Center in Tucson, Arizona. Collaborating with a multidisciplinary team ranging from clinicians and engineers to materials scientists invited by the University of Arizona, we developed a unique design concept: a testing booth that allows healthcare workers to administer tests without using PPE or being exposed.

We reimagined a premanufactured inflatable structure, shaped like a bubble and intended for pool covering, as a testing booth. The “Bubble” consists of fiber-reinforced vinyl, which acts as a protective layer, fully separating healthcare workers who are inside the structure administering the tests, from those being tested, who stand outside. The transparency of the vinyl allows them to interact in a similar way as being in the same room. The pressure of the air pumped inside to inflate the structure works to both keep it in place and stop infection particles from making their way inside. And the vinyl material enables regular cleaning and sanitation.

The pneumatic structure is equipped with glove ports. Once the testing is completed, the specimens are left in designated areas. After the people who were tested have left, they are collected and taken to the lab.  

The best part—the Bubble is light, sturdy and cost-effective. It can withstand extreme weather conditions and can be deployed quickly to parking lots or as self-standing healthcare facilities. As the design of our concept advances, we hope to share it widely soon.  

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